Here’s a piece of conversation you’ll often read at my Twitter and that constantly shows me this post here is more than necessary! It’s so simple if you are already familiar with Tolkien lore, but it’s crucial when you’re getting to know better this wonderful universe he created. The conversation’s pattern goes like this:
One: “I wanna learn/’d like to know/speak Elvish.”
Me: “Which elvish language?”
One: “That from LOTR, of course!”
As emphasized before, the word “Elvish” when referring to a language, says nothing! Tolkien did not create ONE language and named it “Elvish”. Tolkien was not a sloppy creator, he didn’t come up with some creatures called Elves who surprisingly spoke “Elvish”! That’s so dull if you think for a moment.
Instead, Tolkien made up a WHOLE linguistic tree. Languages evolved into others, they mutated through ages, they had a common ancestor, common mechanisms as they were in some extant related to each other. THAT is Tolkien!
To summarize in an easy-to-get visual way, I come up with this Elvish Tree of Languages:
This tree is just a sketch. It’s not super accurate in its essence. It was made to illustrate for beginners the plurality of elvish languages and there are some minor details of the languages’ evolution which are ignored. Below read a brief description of each language shown above:
Common Eldarin: During the Great March, that was the lingua franca of all elves. Later on, with the Elvish clan’s division, new languages developed from this common trunk.
Avarin: Composed by lots of dialects and unrecorded languages spoken by the Avari people, the ones who refused to join the journey to the West.
Common Telerin: The language of all the Telerin clan. Later on, it was spoken only by the Teleri who were left behind in Beleriand.
Telerin: It evolved from Common Telerin and it was spoken by all the Teleri of Aman. Take a look at Telerin culture and some words here.
Nandorin: A language spoken by the Nandor, a people who had Telerin origins and had left the Great March east of the Misty Mountains. Centuries later, this language influenced a lot Silvan dialects (not shown on the tree above)
Sindarin: Very well-spread language. It was spoken as a major language in Beleriand and later on, Middle-Earth. In the movies, for instance Legolas, Aragorn and Arwen speak it. Take a look at Sindarin culture and some words here.
North Sindarin, Doriathrin & Falathrin: Those were dialects of Sindarin during the First Age of the Sun. Doriathrin was the less influenced by the coming of the Noldor and as the history indicates is the basis for Middle-Earth Third Age Sindarin.
Quenya: Do you see the name of this site? Yes, we’re here for the Quenya!!! Quenya is a classical elvish language, also called Elven-Latin. It’s the main language of Valinor and Aman. In Beleriand it was used for a short time by the Noldor who were in exile. In the movies, for instance Saruman invokes Caradhras in Quenya and Aragorn sings in it too. Take a look at Quenya culture and some words here.
Vanyarin: A dialect of Quenya spoken by the Vanyar clan, a people who became more and more “closed” and nearer to the Valar.
Exilic Quenya: A major dialect of Quenya spoken by the Noldor in Beleriand. During the exile and the coming of the Sun, things were bound to fade and change fast. That’s what happened with their language too.
…the question remains. Which elvish language do you wanna learn, speak, know, understand, read, write, eat with ketchup and so on?